Easy access to agents' disciplinary records via new search service
The Estate Agents Authority will launch an online search service next week, giving fast access to its disciplinary records so that buyers can find out if an agent has been penalised in the last two years.
'It will be easier and more convenient for the public to search for information about their agents, which will significantly reduce the time required to find such details,' said Ma Ho-fai, chairman of the authority's disciplinary committee.
At present, the watchdog's website has details of disciplinary action for the last 12 months - including the agent's name and licence number, a description of the offence and the penalty. But there is no search function - users must trawl through the database looking for an agent's name.
From next week, after checking that the person or company is still a licensed agent by entering their name or licence number, it will take just one more click to find out if any disciplinary action has been taken against the agent or company in the past two years.
'We hope this can enhance the disclosure of public information and increase our transparency,' Ma said. The search facility is part of efforts by the authority to improve its services.
It also recently increased penalties against agents for some rule breaches.
The fine for agents who fail to conduct or supply a land search result to a client was increased from HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 in October, as the authority sees it as 'a very basic responsibility of an agent', Ma said.
Agents who repeatedly fail to sign an estate agency agreement with clients also face tougher punishment. Apart from being reprimanded, repeated offenders will now be fined and ordered to take training courses. The number of disciplinary hearings involving failure to enter into an estate agency agreement with a client rose to 45 last year from 23 in 2009, Ma said. Last year, there were 28 cases of agents failing to supply a land search result, down from 37 in 2009.
Ma said the authority had consulted the industry before making the changes. He said most agents supported the move and believed the measures could deter misconduct and enhance their image.
He said the authority received 620 to 640 complaints a year.
A Consumer Council spokeswoman said it welcomed the move to improve disclosure on disciplinary action.
Willy Liu Wai-keung, managing director of Ricacorp Properties, said the search service would give consumers a clearer picture of agents who had broken the rules.
There were 31,984 individual licensees - including sales and estate agents - at the end of last month, up from 29,335 on June 30 last year, according to the authority.
And there were 2,512 licensed companies at the end of last month, up from 2,177 in the nine-month period.